It was back in June of last year when we first heard the possibility of RIM's oddball, dual-CEO structure being split up. The small and dwindling glimmer of hope of a turnaround grew, ever so slightly, that day. Lazaridis and Balsillie have proven over the span of four years that they lack the capacity to accurately judge the competition, honestly believing it's okay to perpetually be a couple years behind their counterparts and to watch their US smartphone market share plummet from over 40 percent in early 2010 to the single digits in November.
With quite the nosedive taking place and very little being done to prevent further slipping, we were happy to learn shareholders and investors were bucking and pressuring RIM to switch things up a bit. Days later, RIM held their annual shareholders meeting, where it was announced that Balsillie and Lazaridis were on the clock and their positions had an expiration date if they couldn't get their act together. They would be given until the release of BlackBerry 10 (then referred to as BBX) devices to prove they could handle the situation and turn things around for the company.
But at that point, we were led to believe BlackBerry 10 devices would be arriving in the first few months of this year. Closer to the end of 2011, RIM revealed that BlackBerry 10 had been pushed back and the next generation BlackBerry handsets will not be arriving until the second half of 2012.
This made us question just what that would mean for RIM. Would the co-CEOs remain in their executive positions until BlackBerry 10 launched? Or would they be removed in light of further delays?
Late last night, we learned the answer to those questions. The tech world exploded with news of RIM's newly appointed CEO, Thorsten Heins. The former co-CEOs, Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis agreed to step down from their long reign as chief executives and have stepped out of the spotlight. While faded into the shadows, they're not totally out of the picture, though: Lazaridis has taken seat as Vice Chair of RIM's Board and Chairman of the Innovation Committee, and Balsillie slumped to director. But the two are founders of the company, so I imagine their word still carries a good deal of weight.
Everyone called for change, and we got what we asked for. But is Heins the change we were expecting or RIM needed?
Heins has been with RIM for over four years now, but for the most part, he has remained behind the scenes. I imagine few people knew the name Thorsten Heins when they read the announcement last night – very few of us know what to expect, including investors. So, in an attempt to break the ice between Heins and investors, RIM held a conference call. During the call, Heins admitted that the company needs to focus more on execution of new products and strategic planning. He also explained that he plans to shift some attention to marketing and the consumer market. But the tell-tale of what to expect from RIM's new CEO came from one particular statement towards the end of the call:
"I don't think there is some drastic change needed."
When we first learned of the possibility of RIM's CEOs being split up, in my normal fashion, I gave a little input on the matter. Aside from Lazaridis' and Balsillie's denial that something is wrong, their main problem has been reluctance to change. I also stated that if "that reluctance continues for too much longer, there might no longer be a company to change."
It could be years before a dedicated company like RIM completely falls off the map entirely, but their sheer ignorance to the pace of the changing market and denial that their products are behind in almost every way is impeccable. And bringing an inside guy to turn things around is hardly the answer. I do not question Heins' ability as a CEO or his intelligence – his work history should speak for itself. But he is being launched to the forefront of one of the most vicious markets in the world in an attempt to repair some rather large gashes, both on RIM's products and consumer loyalty. If Heins truly believes there is no "drastic change needed," he is simply too close to the product to get a full scope of the situation.
When we heard RIM may bringing in a new guy, we were (well, I was at least) hoping for a new guy, an outsider who can see BlackBerry's flaws and RIM's follies for what they really are. We wanted new, fresh, young blood. Being a four-year employee at RIM, Heins clearly has some biases in place, and is echoing Mike Lazridis' recent views on BlackBerry. We can't fault him for that, but from what he's shown so far, he's not the man for the job – not right now, at least.
Who knows, maybe we're all wrong and we're getting the wrong impression of RIM's new mystery man. There is always a possibility that he knows what he's doing and is just smoothing over a bittersweet change for Research In Motion. Change is good, but too much change can put people – and companies – on edge. An internal struggle is the last thing RIM needs at this point.
Here's to hoping Heins' statement was just PR talk to avoid too much backlash from internal Lazaridis and Balsillie loyalists. We all know that Research In Motion needs more change than a new name and face running the company and a little marketing. Among other things, it needs to be kicked into high gear and it needs to enter the 2012 century with groundbreaking mobile software and new and improved hardware. Without those core essentials, Heins will effectively do nothing but take some of the heat off of Balsillie and Lazaridis.
It will be several months before we really see the fruitions of the new CEO and rest assured we will be keeping an eye on his every move. Let's just hope he knows what he's doing. What say you, folks? Is Thorsten Heins the man for the job? Or does RIM need new blood and a fresh, young mind on the job?